by Brendan Ripley-Barasch
It has been a disappointing Spring Training for young Yankees infielder, Rob Refsnyder, to say the least.
The former 5th round pick was a favorite to make the big league roster as a backup infielder this spring. After being brought up at the end of last season and having an immediate impact (hitting .302 with two home runs) it is easy to see why some people would think this way. He would have been even more of a lock to make it if the team would not have made one particular offseason move.
Going into this offseason, fans and media were interested to see what player would emerge as New York’s every day second baseman this year with the forthcoming departure of Stephen Drew (who had an abysmal year). Would they just hand the job over to Refsnyder, sign a big name free agent, or perhaps make a trade? The team decided to go with option C.
In December, the Yankees and Cubs agreed to a trade in which New York would receive recently converted second baseman, Starlin Castro in return for swingman pitcher, Adam Warren and utility infielder, Brendan Ryan. Many saw this trade as a win-win for both teams. A win for the Yankees because Castro has five years of experience at the Major League level while only being 26 years old, he is a three-time All-Star, and addresses the need of a productive second baseman immediately. Also a win for Chicago because with the signing of star free agent 2B Ben Zobrist (who previously played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay) and the rising of 2B prospect Javier Baez, Castro’s talents were no longer needed and the club received a proven pitcher who could help strengthen either the bullpen or the rotation in Adam Warren and a backup infielder with Brendan Ryan to help take some of the pressure off the starters.
While fans and media rejoiced about the arrival of Castro and claimed the change of scenery was exactly what he needed to get back to his All-Star form. One person was not celebrating, and that person was Rob Refsnyder. It was also later revealed that the Yankees had previously tried to trade for Castro before they even gave Ref a chance. In an article on Pinstripeally.com, a popular Yankees blog, Caitlin Rogers writes, “the Yankees failed to trade for Castro, then decided that the best option was to continue to play Drew instead of Refsnyder, and Drew was terrible.” This further proves some fans theories that the New York Yankees are doing all that they can to not have Refsnyder on their roster, but why would they feel that way?
Fast-forward to the beginning of Spring Training for the New York Yankees. There were many storylines going into camp including who would step up and replace Adam Warren and Justin Wilson in the bullpen? who will the backup catcher be? And who the fifth starter would be? It seemed like most had already forgot about Refsnyder and were focused on Castro being the team’s second baseman for years to come. Even with the arrival of Starlin Castro and the spotlight being on him now, this did not stop Ref from working, improving, and striving to earn a roster spot on the New York Yankees. An article on nj.com quoted Refsnyder discussing the current predicament, “It didn’t change much about how I go about my business. I was raised to work hard and make the most of the situation.”
The former Arizona Wildcat certainly did all he could to try and make the Big League roster and that included trying out a new position. Now that the club had Castro at second with veteran utility player Dustin Ackley serving as his backup, speculation around Yankees camp was that they were going experiment with Ref at third base. Rob began the spring at his traditional position of second but after a week the coaches had moved him across the diamond to third base. The goal for Refsnyder now was to learn quickly and make the roster as a backup to 3B Chase Headley (who took his lumps at third this past season after appearing in the most games since his 2012 season). At the beginning it seemed like Rob was a natural at third and the experiment was successful. Just a short week ago he carried a .250 average including a home run and had only committed one error at the hot corner where he had played 90% of the time this spring. But the last week of Spring Training where success was pivotal in order for him to earn a spot, was not kind to him.
The struggles came this past Friday and Saturday where fans and media saw two plays where the ball took a bad hop and struck Refsnyder in the face, causing him to leave early in both games. Also in the two games combined, Ref committed three errors. He ended Spring Training with a slightly disappointing .242 average and a demotion to AAA followed shortly after. For one player (who was originally an outfielder converted to second base) to learn third base in a month span is an almost impossible task. Although Rob may not have made the Big League roster, this spring has certainly been an encouraging one to Yankees coaches and management in terms of Ref showing them he was willing to do anything to be a part of this team.
The question now becomes what the Bronx Bombers plan to do with this prospect in the future. There are multiple situations that the team could be mulling over in regards to Rob, including sending him back to AAA to further gain experience at third base so he could help take some of the workload off of Headley later in the year or continuing to give him reps at multiple positions (3rd, 2nd, and OF) in order to boost his trade stock. It is unknown if Yankee management includes Rob Refsnyder in their group of prospects who are “untouchable” in trade talks along with OF Aaron Judge, SS Jorge Mateo, C Gary Sanchez, and P James Kaprielian. In an article from the NY Post titled Rob Refsnyder’s weekend from hell ends with sad demotion, Manager Joe Girardi is quoted as saying, “Our feeling is that we want him to play more at third. For him to be valuable to us, if he can do them both [second and third], he would be valuable to us.” So the plan for now is in place.
Personally I think Ref is going to be a great player and I’m rooting for him to excel at third or any other position the organization wants him to try. His work ethic is going to be key to his success and progression as a player and it was on display this spring with the 25 year-old showing up weeks early at the Minor-League complex in Tampa to train. He is not concerned about being buried in the depth of the organization, he is only worried about continuing to improve and will be waiting for his opportunity.
It remains to be seen who the Yankees will keep as the backup infielder to Headley at third, now the players that are in the running for the job and are still at camp include Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes who both have at least some Major League experience. The team could also turn to a player who has been cut recently from another team or even make another trade and bury Refsnyder even more. Whatever option the team goes with it will be a short-term fix and Ref will still be seen as the long-term answer as long as he continues to improve. Who knows, Castro or Headley could struggle down the stretch this year and the Yankees may look to Rob Refsnyder as the replacement (wishful thinking).